The Party is On

For a quick update, the following:

  • Yes, I am still alive, and back in the States.
  • If you haven’t been paying attention to Europe, now’s a good time to grab some popcorn.

Now for the longer thoughts.  For some time (well, since the March 2009 bottom) there had been a general sense on the web that many traditional technical analysis methods weren’t behaving correctly.  The market just continued a slow grind upward, mostly due, as Zerohedge put it, to a pair of computers trading shares back and forth to each other.   Now, those signals are working again.

There’s also other good news; the civil suit against Goldman Sachs, and a Bloomberg story about Wall Street banks’ massive fleecing of taxpayers in the municipal bond market.  The stories aren’t the news; as is usual the details have generally been known for years in advance.  The news is that someone in authority seems finally willing to take notice of the problem.

Ob Griechenland über die Zeit wirklich in der Lage ist, diese Leistungskraft aufzubringen, das wage ich zu bezweifeln.

– Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann, 2010-05-13

As for Europe, most of the resolutions over Greece have been largely hand-waving. As in the U.S., leaders are still preoccupied with blaming speculators and trying to assure investors that everything is perfectly fine.  While my earlier expectations of a European “summer of rage” have been delayed, I think the season is now upon us.

In the end, cash flow is what matters.  The greatest threat to Greece, and to the rest of the EU, is that promised bailout monies are unable to be had.  Accounting standards may be adjusted, GDP can be gamed, but eventually payments must be made.  Failed bond auctions, like Spain encountered yesterday, will only add to the pressure.

Traveling Light

Over the past few years I’ve managed to pare down my luggage requirements to a single carry-on bag and a briefcase.  (Rick Steves offers some useful advice in this area.)  My present trip has seen a similar reduction in the amount of stuff I carry with me on a daily basis.  To select a particularly appalling example, I climbed the Great Wall carrying both a bag (containing lunch items, water, and other “essentials”), Nikon D40, and a generously-sized umbrella from the Beijing Intercontinental.  To be fair, the umbrella doubled as a walking-stick and there was a decent chance of rain, but the combined weight in the face of oppressive humidity suggested I seek alternatives.

I have since traded my passport for a photocopy, the Nikon for an ultra-compact Canon IXUS 100IS, and left the bag at home.  The IXUS 100IS (the SD780in the U.S.) is the smallest of Canon’s current line, can hide behind a credit card, and easily disappears into a pocket thanks to its rounded corners.  While I still bring the Nikon when the situation demands, the Canon has become my daily carry.


Empty hallwayYesterday one of the teachers called to ask us to keep contact to a minimum.  The day passed most quietly.  That night I could hear music streaming in from a party across the street.  Today is day 4, and my temperature this morning was 36.2.

The hallways feel empty, but those small panels between the rooms aren’t just decorative.  You could conceal a small army in them, and some appear to connect between floors.

I’ve attached pictures of some of the quarantine measures below. The windows open to a limited extent, but the interior vents have been sealed.  Emergency exits have been sealed with strips of paper to discourage casual use.  The front of the hotel has two layers of barricades and high levels of visibility.  The periphery of the site has guards at fixed points and on patrol, but dense shrubbery and outbuildings serve to significantly reduce visibility.

Sealed bathroom ventWindow block
Guard at fixed positionGuard on patrol

The Next Morning

This morning I received a call from Ted at the embassy inquiring as to my well-being.  Ted said that they expect to receive a list of all Americans but had not received it.  I gave him a description of the situation and some estimates of the number of people.  He also said that the embassy had sent some boxes of books and movies which may still be around.

Serving food

My estimate is that at least 40 people are in quarantine here; we had 7 people in our ambulance, and there were at least 5 ambulances.  A few more people have also arrived today. The procedure for meals is that we walk down a buffet line and indicate the items we would like.  The masked and gowned staff package everything to go, and we return to eat in our rooms.  The first meal I had (lunch) was one of the most nutritious I have had so far, with significant portions of vegetables.  (My diet for the previous week featured largely rice and meats.)

We have procured playing cards, and those with outside contacts are working to arrange additional supply drops.  Our talkative English friend was in this afternoon’s arrivals, and I expect he will take full advantage of what room-service is available.  I’m not sure if it was intentional, but included in the books sent by the embassy is a copy of the Worst Case Survival Handbook.  I did not see a copy of José Saramago’s Blindness, which is perhaps for the best.

My temperature this morning: 36.6 degrees.